Tag Archives: marketing


by Kitty Felde

I have an orphan play that keeps getting readings, but no production. I’m sure you have one, too. Mine is a play for young audiences with a controversial topic – a character in blackface – and revolves around a holiday festival most Americans know nothing about. (And I wonder why nobody’s produced it yet!)

I’ve discovered the reality of the marketplace in children’s theatres these days: lots of new plays are being produced, but nearly all of them are based on favorite children’s books or Disney movies. Like Hollywood, these theatres are surviving by offering audiences the familiar and the famous.

So I decided to adapt my play to a chapter book. I even found an agent who is shopping it around to children’s book publishers.

But now, news about the topic of my play is breaking out worldwide. I just wish I knew how to capitalize on it.

And so I appeal to you, the great brain trust of LAFPI.

The Netherlands celebrates Christmas as a religious holiday on December 25th – though I found the churches sadly empty of anyone under the age of 100 when I lived there. Instead, Holland celebrates December 6th, the feast of St. Nicholas – or, as he is known in Holland, Sinterklaas.

Most Americans know Sinterklaas from one thing: the scene in “Miracle on 34th Street” where Edmund Gwenn as Santa speaks to the little Dutch war orphan and sings the Sinterklaas song.


What most Americans don’t know is that when Sinterklaas arrives in Holland by boat from Spain (don’t ask), he’s accompanied by his buddy Zwarte Piet. That’s literally translated as Black Pete. And yes, it’s a Dutch person in blackface, complete with a bad Afro, overly large red lips, hoop earrings, and a clown-like costume.

The first time I saw Piet, I was appalled. My Dutch friends brushed off my reaction, insisting Pete was a Moor, or perhaps that dark from sliding down chimneys. They said he was a friend to Sinterklaas, not a slave. And that his crazy antics were amusing, not meant to ridicule people of color. Yeah, right.

I found it particularly interesting that there were now many people of color living in The Netherlands – from Suriname and Turkey and Africa – but none of them were called upon to play Pete.

In The Hague, where I was covering war crimes trials, I talked to the only American judge at the Tribunal, Gabrielle Kirk McDonald, an African-American former federal judge who became the Tribunal president. I asked her about Pete. She said every year, there was a debate in her group of African-American ex-pats about whether to make a big stink about Zwarte Piet or ignore him.

Judge McDonald became the inspiration for the adult character in my play THE LUCKIEST GIRL, the story of a ten year old African-American girl who moves to Holland with her grandmother, a lawyer at the Tribunal. Tahira is homesick. The last straw is when she discovers that Santa doesn’t come to Holland; instead, it’s Sinterklaas, and his politically incorrect buddy Zwarte Piet. Much to the horror of her grandmother, Tahira likes Piet.

This fall, UNESCO considered taking The Netherlands to task over Pete. And the Dutch reacted with a Facebook page devoted to Zwarte Piet that got a million likes in a DAY!


Everybody and their brother has been writing about the controversy: New Yorker, Huffington Post, the Economist, and tons of newspapers in Great Britain.






A bonanza, yes? Maybe.

So here’s my question for you playwrights smarter than me: what would you do to capitalize on this kind of publicity? Does it help or hurt the chances of a theatre doing the play? Should I be sending it to British children’s theatres? What should I be doing???

Meanwhile, I’m excited that THE LUCKIEST GIRL is getting another workshop reading at 11 AM, Sunday December 1st at Ensemble Studio Theatre Los Angeles as part of their fESTivity/LA 2013 series. (3269 Casitas Avenue, LA 90039)

It’s directed by Susie Tanner, who loves the script, and starring the two actors who should be playing Tahira and her Dutch friend Jan: Tamika Katon-Donegal and Whit Spurgeon.


Please, please, please post ideas about marketing. And come on down for the reading at EST. Zwarte Piet might even have pepernoten and suikergoed (gingerbread cookies and sweets) to toss to the audience.


The “M” Word–Revisited

by Guest Blogger Liz Femi

Liz Femi
Liz Femi

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my quest to cure, or at least temper, my marketing phobia. I would have easily lived peacefully with humdrum marketing anxiety for the rest of my days, until I wrote a play…and decided to produce it. I scoured the web for marketing tips that were suitable for theatre and settled on Clay Mabbit’s blog: Sold Out Run and his marketing kit: Reaching A New Audience. Over the past few weeks, as my team and I promoted,  Take Me To The Poorhouse (our show at the 2013 Hollywood Fringe Festival), we applied Clay’s marketing strategies in Reaching A New Audience.

I am happy to report that the experiment proved successful.

Our efforts culminated in sold out shows almost every night of our run, not to mention a few laurels and an invitation to extend the run. (BEST OF FRINGE EXTENSIONS, BEST INTERNATIONAL, DUENDE DISTINCTION award nomination for excellence in acting)

How did it happen?

A combination of Clay’s Mabbit’s excellent suggestions and a darn-good, dedicated team.

What did we do?

We applied the modules in Reaching A New Audience, which include:

  • Foundation (marketing basics to create a well-oiled machine)

  • Your Perfect Audience (how to identify and tailor your marketing niche)

  • The Schedule (a detailed marketing calendar with suggested tasks)

  • Worth A Thousand Words (“visual ammunition”)

  • Use Your Cast (tapping into the talent you already have)

We tailored Clay’s ideas to fit a one-person show, along with our mix of flair–like a step-and-repeat for audiences to take pictures after the show, and raffles/token giveaways related to the story.

Reaching A New Audience image

Hits of Reaching A New Audience:

  • We varied our social media content so it wasn’t always focused on promoting ticket sales (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram).

  • We produced a pre-preview night generate pre-festival buzz.

  • We committed to a strong involvement in the fringe community by comp swapping, filling seats for other shows, seeing as many shows as we could, engaging in “fringeships” on twitter and in person at Fringe Central.

  • Identifying our audience and reaching out to target groups within and outside our networks (ex: African Artists Association, Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative, Directors Lab West, Actors Mastermind Group, friends in and out of the industry, and of course, family members)

  • We were also nominated for Best Trailer!

  • We attracted press to (podcasts, radio, blogs, print) to every show, even with almost 200 shows running simultaneously.

  • Weekend evening shows were easiest to fill, so we brought all hands on deck for the weekday afternoon shows. With consistent and varied marketing, we sold out almost every show.

    • On June 8th and 14th–we oversold and added an extra row of chairs

    • June 16th–full house without many advanced tickets but lots of walk-ups

    • June 19th–slow sales. Reached out to fringe community and Directors Lab to fill house. Quite a few walk ups as well.

    • June 21st–sold out. Extra row of chairs.

    • June 28th–full house.



Well…there is the price of the kit, which currently retails $147. You do have to carefully weigh the cost of the Reaching A New Audience with your production goals. For example, depending on the size of a production, one could rationalize the purchase as the cost of 10 seats at $15 a ticket, to get practical, effective, and organized tactics to help build an audience. In my opinion, the price would be too hefty for a one-show run.

Reaching A New Audience image

Finally, nothing beats the power of a strong team to help you get these marketing ideas off the ground and running, and even playing with your own variations along the way. That’s the best part…when marketing becomes a fun game.

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Take Me To The Poorhouse is currently on a BEST OF FRINGE EXTENSIONS run in association with Theatre Planners.

Friday, July 12th @8:00 pm

Thursday, July 18th @8:00 pm

Friday, July 26th @ 10:00 pm

Running time: 60 mins

Venue: The Lounge Theatres (lounge #2) 6201 Santa Monica Blvd, Hollywood 90038

Tickets: $15. Available here.


The “M” Word

by Guest Blogger Liz Femi


Fringe is in the air. Artists of all ilk are excited to bare their souls on Hollywood stages. But fringin’ ain’t easy. With hundreds of shows vying for audience attention, artists on a limited budget are left with no choice but to don the hats of marketing specialist, fundraiser, and publicist. Oh and of course, back to artist. Right. Each aspect is a feat in its own right, but I’d like to focus on marketing in this post. As someone who had a marketing phobia (I still do to some extent), I understand how marketing may feel like trying to hit a piñata in the dark–with some cruel, invisible entity spinning you astray. The truth is, whenever I feel this way, it’s because I don’t have enough information. I finally owned up to my part in the matter and began digging. In my search for how to market theatre specifically, I stumbled upon Clay Mabbit’s blog: Sold Out Run. The blog alone has an incredible amount of information. When I found out that Clay also wrote a book: Reaching A New Audience, and that the book details strategies to draw audiences of a digital age to the theatre, it immediately piqued my interest.


So we made a deal.


I would read and apply the modules in Reaching A New Audience and write an honest review based on my experience (Clay offered this opportunity in a newsletter to subscribers). Clay provides a ton of ideas in twelve modules, which he describes as “tactical steps of promoting your show.” He adds, “you can tackle one module a day, one each week, or whatever pattern works for you. Most of the modules can be completed in 20 minutes or less.”


Over the past few weeks, my team and I have been experimenting with Clay’s tactics in promoting my play, Take Me To The Poorhouse, at this year’s Hollywood Fringe Festival. Modules in Reaching A New Audience include:

  • Foundation (marketing basics to create a well-oiled machine)
  • Your Perfect Audience (how to identify and tailor your marketing niche)
  • The Schedule (a detailed marketing calendar with suggested tasks)
  • Worth A Thousand Words (“visual ammunition”)
  • Use Your Cast (tapping into the talent you already have)


Here are examples of ideas we ran with:

1. Creating memes of characters in the show–




Our Facebook fans enjoy our meme series and we still have several characters to go.


2. We added a blog to our show’s website, as a way to keep the site dynamic and current.

Take Me To The Poorhouse—blog


3. We also shot a trailer, one of the many ideas also echoed in Outreach Nerd, Cindy Marie Jenkins’s Social Media Marketing workshops.

Cindy’s insight has been an excellent complement to Clay’s module because it helps us really fine tune how to use social media to effectively disseminate the content in Clay’s modules. Hopefully the entire process will help quell those old, queasy marketing nightmares. Fingers crossed.


Reaching A New Audience currently retails at $147 and Clay has given me permission to read it for free. $147 is a hefty price to pay for a book. Is it worth it? Stay tuned for results in my follow-up post.


Take Me To The Poorhouse is currently running at the 2013 Hollywood Fringe Festival

Friday, June 14th @8:00 pm

Sunday, June 16th @ 2:00 pm

Wednesday, June 19th @4:00 pm

Friday, June 21st @10:00 pm

Friday, June 28th @ 8:00 pm


Running time: 60 mins

Venue: The Lounge Theatres (lounge #2) 6201 Santa Monica Blvd, Hollywood 90038

Tickets: $10. Available here.


How To Make Theatre Contagious

A Guest Post by Laura A. Shamas

With so many entertainment options available now, the question is: How can we encourage interest in theatre so it will thrive in the twenty-first century?

Recently, I read a bestselling book Contagious: Why Things Catch On. It’s written by Jonah Berger, a professor of marketing at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Although Contagious is written as a marketing primer, I was struck by how much of it was applicable to theatre and to the arts in general.

It’s hard to determine what makes things popular today. Berger writes that it’s not merely the quality, the pricing, or the advertising of the projects/products that catch on. He reports that although we spend a great deal of time online, only 7% of word-of-mouth happens via Internet-related channels: “We tend to overestimate online word-of-mouth because it’s easier to see.” Social media may display the interests and activities we’ve chosen to share, so the record is available at a glance, but the activities we have offline are just as important and are just as influential. Most of us do not have the time to respond to every update or tweet. When Berger polled his college students, he found that less than 10% of their friends responded to a message they’d posted online. He reminds us “that Facebook and Twitter are technologies, not strategies.”

So what does work? Berger has found six principles that make things “go wide.” Berger describes the anatomy of virality, although not all components are necessary for each and every case of a popular share. These ideas are easily remembered in the acronym “STEPPS”:

1) Social Currency.
2) Triggers.
3) Emotion.
4) Public.
5) Practical Value.
6) Stories.

1) SOCIAL CURRENCY. Do you know insider info that makes you seem cool? Can you share something that you know will be considered “remarkable” or unique? If so, you will share it; it’s human nature. Berger underscores that we find it “pleasurable” to talk about our interests and attitudes. This makes us “look good,” Berger says; it gives us social stature.

Breaking patterns that others have come to expect also gives us social currency, like doing something in a novel, unexpected way. Leveraging game mechanics (by allowing others to see how well we do in a points system, as with airline miles or Foursquare) is another way to gain currency because games motivate us via “social comparison.” We measure our scores next to our friends’ tallies.

Making people feel like “insiders” also boosts their social currency; this is done by giving scarce, unique, exclusive offers to customers or clients.

Berger’s thoughts on social currency made me think about current theatre practices. Theatres have long used “special pre-show receptions,” a chance to preview a show, or even an opportunity to attend certain rehearsals to give subscribers “insider” cachet, such as in Arena Stage’s Theater 101 class.

But what more could we, as theater professionals, do to promote “remarkability” and innovation? Mixed Blood Theatre’s egalitarian Radical Hospitality is a recent idea that breaks previous patterns related to how theater is “sold” to an audience. Or how about doing a play in one’s living room for only twelve people at a time? What else can be done that’s surprising to change the ways in which theater is experienced today?

What can a specific play do that is “remarkable,” completely surprising, or new?

2) TRIGGERS. Daily, we each share about 16 or more opinions about an organization, product, or service, Berger says. That’s a lot of “word-of-mouth.” Why do we do it? Timing is everything.

Something in the environment “triggers” our need to share. Did you know the sales of Mars bars escalated during the 1997 NASA Pathfinder’s mission? Or that Rebecca Black’s 2011 hit song “Friday” always got more YouTube hits on that actual day of the week than any other? These are examples of “triggers” that resonate in our everyday lives.

Berger explains that even negative reviews can be positive for business, if the reviews introduce a project’s existence by giving it press.

If you want to lay the groundwork for triggers for your product, you can “grow its habitat,” according to Berger, “by creating new links to stimuli in the environment.”  This can be done by directing attention to related messages or associated ideas in your project’s arena. The more often you can make a project come to mind, the better.

In this chapter, Berger notes that movie theaters depend on immediate word-of-mouth, as weekly box office reports convey.

But it is also true that ongoing word-of-mouth or “repeat business” helps to drive entertainment sales. So I wonder: How do we “grow a habitat” for theatre? Is it related to the DNA (or identity) of a specific theater or should it always be more play-specific? Or both? How do you grow a habitat for a new play? What are the environmental “triggers” needed? What is the relationship between the cultural zeitgeist and the community in terms of “triggers” that may need to be seeded and tended?

3) EMOTION. Theatre artists already know this axiom: “When we care, we share.” But Berger attaches a component to emotion that goes beyond empathy/sympathy: awe. This was my favorite part of Berger’s book, as he discusses our love of mystery and “the experience of confronting something greater than yourself” which enlarges one’s own “point of reference.”

This section reminded me of works in depth psychology, where awe is seen as part of the numinous or “mysterium tremendum,” the transcendent spiritual force that both attracts and repels.

Berger cites Albert Einstein’s idea that the mysterious is the power of “all true art and science.” I’ve been in “awe” in the theater many times: in awe of excellence of artistry and aesthetics, in awe at the brilliance of execution, in awe of the communal act of artists joined together onstage to produce drama. Berger’s emphasis on the importance of “awe” as an emotion really rang true for me as an artist. Yes, awe-inspiring projects catch on!

We feel affinity for those with whom we’ve shared emotions and secrets, but also with those who make us laugh, according to Berger. If you can crack me up—well, now we’re connected.

The science of “physiological arousal,” an active state in which we’re ready to move or react as needed, is at the core of why emotion matters in virality. Berger uses the image of “kindling a fire” as a metaphor to express emotion as a marketing force. He also reports that exercise (jogging, walking) promotes more emotional sharing.

In theatre, we’ve long known that emotion is what drives human beings. Berger’s exercise discussion made me think of interactive theater like Sleep No More. There’s always a lot of well-deserved buzz about shows that require the audience to move. Does walking around or being physically active while viewing a show contribute to the audience’s desire to spread the word post-show?

4) PUBLIC. Is your project publically visible? We imitate the behavior of others. Can we observe other people supporting your project? Berger reports that we mimic the behavior of others because it provides information about how to live: “social proof.” If others are eating at that restaurant, it must be good. (I wonder if it’s also related to the idea of crowd-sourcing.)

Where do most people put their theatre tickets? Away, in pockets, purses. One idea that Berger suggests directly about theatre is intriguing: “…if theater companies and minor league teams could use buttons or stickers as the ‘ticket,’ instead, ‘tickets’ would be much more publicly observable.”

Berger also explores the concept of “behavioral residue,” something that lasts after the experience. That made me reflect further: certainly, shirts and swag promoting a show should be categorized as part of this.

5) PRACTICAL VALUE. Berger calls this component “news you can use.” Is your project part of a money-saving “deal”? Is there valuable information to impart? Can it help get a discount? Berger suggests that the precept of “practical value” may be the easiest to apply.

To apply “Practical Value” to theatre-making: we certainly award discounted tickets for Student or Early Rush, or preview sales. There’s a financial “deal” aspect to that, as producers have known for a long time.

But is there another way to explore the concept of “practical value”? Can we make the case for the necessity for the arts (art, music, theater, dance, literature)? Can we show it’s not practical to live without them? Is there a way to impart to twenty-first century audiences that art is “fit for action,” as the etymology of “practical” shows?

6) STORIES. Berger begins this final chapter by relaying the story of Odysseus and the Trojan Horse, a Greek myth that has been retold for thousands of years. It has a message; it’s a good narrative. Berger then uses that myth as a metaphor for the function of story relatable to products and brands: a good story may contain valuable information more entertainingly told, and thus, is more memorable, more sustainable.

Berger believes that a product should construct a “carrier narrative” shell that will get people talking, like the Trojan Horse itself. He also cautions that this narrative should be embedded to the plot, so that it’s directly related to the product—not tangential.

The element of story is easy to connect to theatre-making. Writers certainly know something about “story as vessel” for information, since we often struggle with how to artfully hide exposition in a good tale. We know about the value of story, whether for a one-person show or an ensemble.

But what is the story of a specific project? Often, we limit promotional narratives to the bios of the creators, or an issue that brought the creative team to the project. What if you can create “the story” of a play in performance in order to attract an audience, as a meta-narrative? Should the show have its own origin story?

Berger ends Contagious with an epilogue and a checklist, and the good news that you don’t need a big budget to apply these steps to make your project “go viral.”

As we seek audiences for our art, perhaps some of Berger’s ideas can point the way towards imagining a more “contagious” future for theatre artists and audiences.

Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger, published by Simon and Schuster, New York, 2013.

To see author Jonah Berger discuss Contagious: Why Things Catch On and each aspect in detail, click here.

Laura A. Shamas is a co-founder of LA FPI and currently volunteers as an Outreach Agent. 

Art (& Empathy) in a Time of Terror II

Continued from yesterday’s post:

Of course, we know that art matters. Especially – and mostly – those of us who work within it.

Still, it’s difficult to conceive of why I should bust my butt to get people to see a play while Watertown is locked down.

After seeing "Walking the Tightrope" at 24th ST Theatre
After seeing “Walking the Tightrope” at 24th ST Theatre

Short-term, all I need to remember are the happy faces of kids who think going to the theatre is fun, and parents relieved to find a place that welcomes families. Not only do they not have to find a babysitter, they can enjoy an experience together.

So that helps. It really does.

Even then, my conflicts usually come to the surface because there has to be something else – bigger, better, that reaches more people – there has to be some faster way to spend my time to create a better world. Right?

Maybe there is. Maybe there isn’t. Maybe I’m in the exact right place to introduce more people to more stories that create empathy in their lives. Marketing has such a bad connotation to it, when in fact I should be called an Audience Ambassador. My job(s) is to find a way to bridge the vast gap between quality family programming and the elusive where the parents are.

(It’s not really so elusive. We know where they are: in schools, in parks, at work, visiting ill family members, volunteering at their school fund-raisers, writing blogs to tell their own stories.)

Last Friday, I had to go to 24th ST Theatre. I had two guests taking photographs of the guest clown rehearsing his performance. As the staff transitioned from a performance space to an arts education/after school space, I worked in the lobby. There something happened which is not unique to this space, but which always manages to get me.

A young kid – 9-11 years-old at the most – saw my MSL (Mars Science Laboratory) sticker on my laptop and asked me about space.

So we talked about it. We talked about robots on Mars and what that teaches us about our own world. We talked about what life means, and why alien life forms may not be anywhere close to human form. Maybe they are. We don’t know yet, and we could find more information in his lifetime.

Then he had to go to After Cool, where the main parts of drama they teach include: expression, public speaking, story-telling and empathy.

Part of my job is to then tell their great stories from class to increase the program’s exposure and maybe funding down the line.

Back after the Newtown shootings, I also had a reason I had to go to work that day. It turned out to save me. I had to go, even though all I wanted to was crawl into my cave and cuddle with my dog.

We had a Parents Night for After Cool. This being my first time, I had no idea what to expect. Students of all ages packed their parents into our space and showed them vignettes of their greatest fears and their greatest hopes.



The best part: their parents heard them.

Back to last week.

It is incredibly difficult to simultaneously look at to-do list and live stream of a bombing close to where a high school boyfriend told you he loved you. It is difficult to call your parents and want to know they’re okay, want to just hear their voices as you look at this horror, and they need to discuss something else entirely with you.

How can you bug me about calling my grandfather *again* and not being excited enough about good news form the family when THIS IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW?

That is what I want to scream.

But they don’t know that I just needed to hear their voices over the police scanners and the twitter rumors.

They don’t know that because I don’t tell them.

And what matters to them when they hear from me is to figure out how to ask me to make two phone calls (even when they know I will get mad at the messenger).

And when all I want to do is figure out how to make a better world, I can actually start with my own family.

2 phone calls.

Maybe adults could use a Parents Night just as often as kids lucky enough to be in an after school program.

If I had to tell my parents my greatest fears:

That Dad returned to the Marathon because he missed quality time with his girls and as a result, got caught in the bombings.

My greatest wish:

That I could have the life I love without being 3,000 miles away from the folks who helped me create it.

Empathy has to start somewhere, often closer to home.

Maybe I should start with why I had time to write this blog post but not enough time to make two phone calls.

Next: Clowns and Hope